George Stewart Bain-Smith GC (AM exchanger)

b. 01/12/1898 Grampound, Truro, Cornwall. d. 22/01/1972 Cartmel. Cumbria.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 03/06/1927 Mount Mun, Himalayas.

George Stewart Bain-Smith AM/GC was born on the 1st December 1898 at Grampound, near Truro, in Cornwall. He was the eldest son of Captain Henry Feather Smith and his wife, Eveline Mary, daughter of Donald Bain, JP, of Keynsham, near Bristol. He was intended for the Royal Navy and commenced to sit the exam into Osborne in 1911. In the middle of the exam, he was seen to have the measles, so was asked to leave the room. This should have meant the end of his military aspirations. His father, who had taught the Prince of Wales and Duke of York to play golf, appealed directly to King George V but to no avail. Therefore, he was sent instead to Blundell’s School to prepare for entry into RMA Woolwich, which he was successful and he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery as a Second Lieutenant on 6th June 1918.

George S Bain-Smith GC

His time at Woolwich was principally distinguished by his design and building of a new howitzer in which it is said, he demonstrated so well, he demolished the Commandant’s greenhouse! Eleven days after his commission, he saw action in France, taking command of a battery a week later, when all the other officers were killed. He survived the war despite being shot down in an observation balloon, and was posted to Mesopotamia where he helped the relief effort after the Arab Revolt. At the end of the War, he gained employment with the Indian Army as a Mountain Gunner.

In 1924, he transferred to the Indian Army Ordnance Corps. He married the following year, in Simla, India, to Gertrude Hilda Eileen, the daughter of Lt Colonel Roger Lewis Campbell Sweeney, DSO, OBE, MC, a distinguished officer, who died soon after the wedding. After his marriage, he went on leave to England, and as it was during the General Strike, when his leave was over and he found the trains were not running from Bristol, he commandeered the “Bristolian” express and drove it himself from Bristol to London!

Back in London, he mounted two expeditions to the Himalayas and explored Gilgit and Little Tibet. He recorded the second expedition on cine film. It was during these expeditions that he was involved in a spectacular mountain rescue which led to the award of the Albert Medal.

On 3rd June 1927 on Mount Mun in the Himalayas, he was told of an accident 3,000ft up in the Himalayas in which Major Minchinton and two Gurkhas had been badly injured. One of the Gurkhas had been able to make his way down. Although he had no knowledge or experience of mountaineering, Bain-Smith set out at once to the rescue. He had no ice axe and was wearing smooth soled boots and could only proceed by kicking footholds in the snow with his stockinged feet. When he reached the two injured men, he made a makeshift sledge from his coat; helped a little by the Gurkha, who was just able to move, he dragged the major some 500ft lower. He then had to get help from two shepherds and they managed to move down another 500ft but then progress again became impossible because of the roughness of the snow. Bain-Smith then sent one of the shepherds to get help, but he failed to return. So he set off again and found 4 more shepherds. He was so exhausted by now that he could only crawl, but when he managed to get back to the injured men he sent the Gurkha down with two of the shepherds, before making several unsuccessful attempts to continue the descent. At sunset, the rest of the shepherds deserted him, so, after staying for half an hour with the Major, who was unconscious, if not already dead, and clad in only a shirt, shorts and stockings, he made his way to a fire that he could see below the glacier; here he found the Major’s wife and a party of men. They could not tackle the mountain in the dark, but early next morning Bain-Smith escorted them to a point from where the Major’s body could be seen. He was by then on the verge of collapse and both his feet were frost-bitten.

Bain-Smith’s Albert Medal was announced on 30th September 1927, and he remained in India writing articles for several newspapers. In 1936, he was invalided back to England with tuberculosis and spent time in Switzerland to recuperate. Despite his illness, he skied there and recorded on film some of the Olympic sports. He never returned to India and was instead posted to Aldershot, where he fitted out the Brigade of Guards for the British Expeditionary Force. By 1940, his TB had become so severe, he had a lung and a half removed at Midhurst and was invalided out of the Army. After recuperating, he became Bursar at Sedbergh School, and remained there until retirement in 1961. He remained on the Board as a Financial Advisor after his retirement.

He chose to exchange his Albert Medal in 1971, donating it to the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich, but sadly died soon afterwards on 22nd January 1972 in Cartmel, Cumbria. He was cremated in Lancaster, and his ashes scattered. His GC and other medals are privately held.